Friday, October 29, 2004

Arafat's demise would plunge region into worsened conflict

Arafat’s demise would plunge region into worsened conflict
Creators Syndicate Friday Oct. 29, 2004
Daily Herald Monday, Nov. 1, 2004
By Ray Hanania

Israelis blame Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for the collapse of the peace process.

It’s not surprising Israel has intentionally stalled the peace process in the hopes he will die or be replaced.

This past week, the Israelis almost got their wish when the 75-year-old Palestinian leader became seriously ill.

Unfortunately, Arafat holds the only key to genuine peace with Israel. Rather than give Palestinians and Israelis a new opportunity for peace, his demise would plunge the two into worsened conflict.

It’s hard to believe the conflict can get worse, but in Arafat’s absence, it will.

There is no other Palestinian who supports peace based on two-states who also has the power to make that happen.

Several Palestinians are viewed as successors and include Hanan Ashrawi, one of the most qualified, and Marwan Barghouti, a political dissident imprisoned by Israel.

While both might satisfy Israel's preconditions for peace, and enjoy strong popular support, neither can overcome the growing threat of Islamic extremism to achieve compromise. Only Arafat has that power.

Rather than open a new door to peace, Arafat’s demise will instead pave the way for another Palestinian leadership, one driven by political extremism and the rejection of compromise with Israeli based on religious faith.

It is a force Israel inadvertently helped create. In the late 1970s, Israeli hardliners including Ariel Sharon helped Sheik Ahmed Yassin launch an Islamic alternative to Arafat in the Gaza Strip. They believed then that they needed to jump-start a religious alternative in order to undermine Arafat’s growing influence. They never expected Yassin’s religious alternative would become Israel’s true nightmare, Hamas.

That policy continues in a new form today.

By destroying Arafat’s secular government, Israeli hardliners have strengthened Hamas and the Islamicist alternative. The viciousness of the current conflict coupled with Israel’s continued expropriation of Palestinian lands and expansion of illegal settlements not only in the West Bank but also around East Jerusalem, fuel the current conflict.

Growing anger among the Palestinian population is directed not only against Israel, but also against the concept of peace based on two-states.

Faced with an Israel that refuses to compromise on Jerusalem or accept responsibility for creating the Palestinian refugee problem, more and more Palestinians believe continued conflict will transform Israel into an acceptable inevitability.

In absorbing the occupied territories and with a faster Arab population growth, the majority population in Israel will be non-Jewish. Why compromise as Arafat has argued?

Arafat represents a secular solution to the conflict based on compromise and two-states. Hamas represents a religious alternative based on faith and belief that feeds on conflict. Continued conflict, they believe, will inevitably transform Israel into an Islamic state.

Unlike the secular option, religious faith does not stumble on the lack of reason or logic.
Arafat symbolizes the recognition that there is no real choice but to compromise with Israel. More importantly, Arafat has the power to make a compromise work.

Israel’s shortsighted policies that have imprisoned Arafat in his headquarters in Ramallah and marginalized his role in possible peace talks insure no secular successor will be groomed to take his place.

A future without Arafat is a future of more suicide bombings, more violence and an unreasoned resistance waiting for the one opportunity to deliver a fatal blow.

The only things preventing Israelis from seeing this bleak certainty is arrogance and a refusal to do the right thing.

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(CORRECTION: In some editions of the column, a typo reference "Mustafa" Barghouti rather than "Marwan" Barghouti.)

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